Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection. But people can be vaccinated against hepatitis B. The hepatitis B shot is recommended for newborns, as well as children not vaccinated at birth.

Some adults are more at risk than others of getting the disease, and should get the hepatitis B vaccine.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that damages the liver, causing it to swell. Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is passed through the bodily fluids of an infected person, including by:

  • Blood

  • Semen

  • Vaginal fluids

  • Saliva

Always wear gloves when handling another person’s blood or open sores.

Acute and chronic hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be acute or long-term.

  • Acute infection usually lasts for six months. Most adults with acute hepatitis B will get completely better, but some will go on to have chronic hepatitis B.  Infants with acute hepatitis B are much more likely to progress to chronic hepatitis B.  People with an acute infection that resolves are protected from developing hepatitis B again.

  • Chronic (long-term) infection lasts a lifetime and can cause serious liver damage. Cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer can develop from hepatitis B. Infants with hepatitis B are at risk for chronic infection.

Hepatitis B vaccinations are the best way to prevent infection. Ask your doctor about being vaccinated.

Hepatitis B symptoms

Acute hepatitis B symptoms do not always appear during infection. Patients older than six are more likely to have symptoms than very young children and babies. Symptoms usually appear around three months after exposure. These include:

  • Fever

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

  • Dark urine

  • Clay-colored bowel movement

  • Joint pain

  • Jaundice

Contact your doctor if you believe you could be infected with hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B screening and diagnosis

Blood tests can be done to confirm hepatitis B infection. These tests look at the antibodies and the virus levels in a patient’s body.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage. Ask your doctor about whether you should be tested for hepatitis B.

Pregnant women can pass on the infection to their baby. Pregnant women should get a screening early in their pregnancy to check for the HBV infection.

Hepatitis B treatments

Acute hepatitis can be treated with rest, a healthy diet and plenty of fluid. There is no medication to treat patients with acute hepatitis B.  For most adults with acute hepatitis B the infection will get completely better with time.

Chronic hepatitis B infections are long term, and can be managed in a variety of ways. Several medications are available to help treat the infection.

Not every patient takes medications to manage hepatitis B. Close monitoring of liver function and and healthy practices help prevent severe liver damage from hepatitis B.

A liver transplant may be needed if hepatitis B causes severe damage to the liver. Doctors will evaluate if the patient is a right candidate for a liver transplant.

People at risk of getting hepatitis B include:

  • People with many sex partners, or who have had sex with someone infected
  • People with a sexually transmitted disease
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • Drug users
  • People who live with someone who has chronic hepatitis B
  • Infants born to infected mothers
  • Workers exposed to infected blood
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • Travelers in countries with high hepatitis B rates.

Talk with your doctor about preventing infection with the hepatitis B vaccine.